Monday, December 14, 2009

Just Two Generations

The title for this blog should properly be sung to the tune of The Temptations' "Just My Imagination".

I was reading some obscure presidential history...trivia, really. At the risk of spoiling the end (go read it; I'll wait.....ready? Ok.), I got chills from this line:
Their grandfather, as a child, made regular weekend visits to hang out with Thomas Jefferson. Their grandfather was born before the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.
From a US History standpoint, it's always shocking to remember that these issues we think of as "buried in our past" are actually so recent we can reach them in three generations. We talk about the Civil Rights movement like it's a ling time gone, but how can it be old news when there are people still living whose grandparents were slaves? For that matter, ginandtacos's example shows we're really only three generations away from the founding of this country.

Puts things into perspective, doesn't it? We're the nation equivalent of a 26 year-old recent college graduate at their first big job.

Then I put this into a Jewish perspective. We had a guest speaker at temple this past Friday. I did not agree with much of what he said (can you hear my blood boil from there?), more on that later, but he pulled several of the traditional lines about Judaism in America. Such as, "We've never faced persecution here", and "We have a great tradition in this country"; things of that nature.

Ignoring that the first point is just plain wrong, you hear this general line of reasoning fairly often. Granted, compared to how the rest of the world treats Jews, the US is a paradise for us. I mean, I can count the number of religion-based death threats I received in Junior High on one hand (three); that's unheard of in most of the world! But we act like this has been going on for a long time, and ginandtacos's article, in many ways, gives that idea the lie.

The first documented Jewish presence in America dates back to the 1650's, but the bulk of Jewish immigration happened in the late 1800's. More occurred post-WWII. Most of us don't have to go back very far at all to find our family's entrance to the country; probably just two generations, even without the huge families and long lifespans ginandtacos points out.

To me, that's a sobering thought. Partially because it means that my parents were here, and my grandparents, but to my great-grandparents this country was an alien land; not a place of tradition (מקום של מנחג - I show off in Hebrew!), but the strange land in which they were strangers.

But also partially because that's just long enough to forget. I have no memories of my great-grandparents; I know a few of them lived long enough to meet me, but to me they're essentially just names and photos. Which means every living member of my family grew up here. They - no; we - have only really known acceptance - with some small friction, perhaps. As far as we know, this land has always been a good place for the Jews.

But I've been reading a lot of history lately.

About cycles of nations.

And about other places that were paradises for Jews.

My parents and my grandparents.

Just two generations.

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